In Love with a Ghost

I always told her she was actually in love with a ghost. She used to laugh crazily, and told me “yes, you are no less than a ghost”.

I told her, “look, it’s true that I care a lot about you, but so many years have passed, we have both changed and so has life, you should now forget that once we almost got romantic.”

But she never listened, she was a very stubborn woman.

“When will you write about me?” She asked me one day.

I was taken by surprise because she had never asked me anything like that ever before. I asked her in response, “What do you want me to write about you?”

“What you felt about me when we were younger,” She said in response.

“What if I don’t want to write about you?” I asked her, “and let me be honest, you don’t really want me to write anything about you because you are not going to like a glimpse of my mind.”

“I want you to write about me, no matter how small a piece” she insisted.

We were actually text messaging. She was once a very close friend, too close for the world we lived in. In the past several years I had only met her on three occasions after the night she got married. We came close when I was trying to recover from a severe personal loss. We already knew each other. She judged my emotional problems and offered help which I gladly accepted and that brought us closer.

We were young then; in a different time, in a different world. Now I look back and realise I shouldn’t have accepted her help, it damaged her more than it helped me.

Those were different days, no millennial can really understand what has changed and what was life like back then. Now that I look back it’s really hard to relate that we live in the same society, so much has changed, and it is still changing rapidly.

Cover of "Sholay"

Cover of Sholay

We didn’t have cell phones back then, I mean cell phones were there but they were not common and only the very rich could afford them. Internet was still dialling up to connect on copper wires, and its speed was only just better than snail mail – if you could connect that is.

It was very segregated back then, free gender mixing was a vice, and it took “shameless courage” to break the ice with a random girl. Girls, on the other hand, were still afraid of their fathers and brothers, and they were accustomed to dress to appease social moralities.

I mean everything went on even then but only discreetly. We lived a complicated life, a life that was stuck somewhere in between religious restraints, social moralities, and base desires inspired by newly arriving media liberties. But things are changing now, base desires are no big deal anymore, religion is now seen as morbid, and social morality is mutating.

The day she asked me to write about her actually made me thinking what would I write if I ever want to write about her. We had hardly spent time with each other, and we could only freely text each other once mobile phones became a commodity.

I closed my eyes and delved into my memory to look for her and found a very depressing old book. I found a woman whose desires contradicted.

She used to get jealous if I talked to more colourful women. But she really wanted me to hook up with someone. I think she was confused what she wanted from me. I now recall meeting her once a few months short of her wedding. We met at a bowling club, and she brought a cousin along with her. She really wanted me to fall in love with her cousin. Her cousin was pretty, but she was quite fortunate, I didn’t fall in love with her.

She was quite depressed the day her would be in-laws came to see her the first time with the marriage proposal. Later that night, I told her if it’s bothering her too much, I can send my family too and she asked in response, “how much do you earn?”

I told her about my meagre salary, and I also told her the kind of person I really was, my lifestyle, and the things I liked and disliked.

She said, “I want to marry someone rich and pure of character, you don’t deserve me”.

“Yes, you are right, I am neither rich nor pure of character” I confessed.

“Besides, even if I agree, my family wouldn’t marry me to an Urdu speaking Pathan” she disclosed.

“Well, Pathans are not really that bad, never mind the jokes and the United States” I told her, “don’t you see all the good guys in Bollywood are Pathans?”

“You are forgetting Gabbar” she laughed as she referred to Amjad Khan’s legendary performance in Sholay.

And she ultimately got married to the rich guy who was pure of character. We didn’t talk for several months after she got married. It was out of respect for her married life because I understood no man would like his wife to have a very close male friend or vice versa. In fact, I had blocked her on my messenger. She sent me an email several months after her marriage asking me to unblock her. She wanted to show me her wedding pictures, and she shared only her pictures in the bridal dress. I told her she looked pretty. I thought my appreciation would make her happy, but she got distressed.

We only talked sparingly, and she had little clue what was going on in my life and she never asked about it too. I was morphing into a person who was no more than a shadow of his former self.

She was obsessed with romantic novels, and she used to force me to read most of them too. We often ended up fighting because I didn’t want to read some novel just because she liked it.

One day she messaged me, “Have you read Peer-e-Kamil by Umera Ahmed?”

“No! I haven’t” I replied.

“You must, its protagonist, Salar, reminds me of you so much. It’s such a beautiful story. It made me cry” she told me.

Peer-e-Kamil by Umera Ahmed was the only novel I ever read on her recommendation just to find out if the protagonist was really like me. I told her that I was much more a grey character than Salar, neither I was very rich nor I had an IQ of a genius.

One day she dedicated me a song from Emraan Hashmi’s movie Awarapan; the debut song “Tera Mera Rishta” by Mustafa Zahid. She told me that ever since she had heard the song, she couldn’t stop thinking about her complicated relationship with me.

There were other things as well which she was obsessed with like TV soap operas. She knew I didn’t watch TV but she would still ask me if I had seen a particular show. It really turned me off, and it would upset her more to find out that our interests didn’t really match.

One day she told me, “You know what? One should never fall in love with a person one cannot marry”.

I told her, “you read a lot of love stories and that is what really disturbs you, you are mentally stuck with a ghost of the past which I am not anymore.”

She said, “probably, you are right, whatever has happened must be right, it is how God willed it”.

I told her “look! You are married now, and you have no idea about the kind of life I am living if you knew you wouldn’t have regretted not marrying me”.

But then she doubted her own belief, “you would have at least respected me, treated me with kindness”.

I told her, “I still respect you, I don’t know how kind or responsible I am, but you wouldn’t have definitely liked me as a husband, and you are forgetting that I wanted to send my family with the proposal, it was you who told me I was not good enough for you”.

She replied, “shush! it’s not your fault.”

It was years later that I came to know she had a very unfulfilled married life. At first, I thought she was magnifying petty issues. I told her she should stop watching Indian soap operas because these shows based on saas-bahu politics were a bad influence on her mind. But then she reluctantly told me how her husband and in-laws mistreated her. I also came to know she miscarried her first child due to domestic violence.

Once late at night, I was staying at a relative’s place that she texted me telling me she wanted to talk. She told me that she had left her husband’s house and would never go back. I remember that I spent the whole night in the washroom talking to her on the phone trying to calm her down and not getting a divorce from her husband. I told her she didn’t know what happens in our society when women are divorced. I told her our society was only as much Islamic as I was, “there is no place for divorced women in our society, your own loved ones will give up on you” I told her, “think about your children, don’t make a rash decision.”

She sighed and said, “you are right, I have children now to think about, I have to tolerate their father and his family my entire life for their future. I have to compromise.”

A few weeks later, she happily told me that she had started smoking too and that she didn’t give a shit anymore. That day I understood she had finally managed to get rid of my ghost.

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